Life has sweet and sad moments, sometimes too closely juxtaposed. At the October 2013 ACEP Scientific Assembly meeting in Seattle, emergency physicians, residents, medical students, and long-time colleagues were pleased and intrigued to watch Dr. George Podgorny in the premiere of the EMRA Legacy Initiative 24/7/365 documentary, and then to hear him interviewed later that evening and in a panel discussion the following day. Many learned about the key role that Dr. Podgorny played in establishing emergency medicine as a legitimate US medical specialty through the creation of the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM). At the time of the approval of ABEM by the American Board of Medical Specialties in 1979, Dr. Podgorny was clearly in the mix – serving as both President of ACEP and President of ABEM that year. He was integrally involved in the negotiations that created the approved “modified conjoint” ABEM board after the original ABEM proposal had been roundly defeated in an American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) House of Delegates vote in 1977. After ABEM was approved, Dr. Podgorny was the Chief Examiner for the first ABEM exam. He also became the head of the newly created Residency Review Committee and served in that capacity for six years. He tirelessly surveyed and approved residencies, helping to ensure the quality of new emergency medicine residency programs.
Unfortunately, after gracing us with his encyclopedic memory, wit, and insights at ACEP, Dr. Podgorny fell ill after his trip to Seattle and died in Winston Salem, N.C., on Nov. 5, 2013.
George Podgorny was born in Iran, but his heritage was Czech and Armenian. His father taught physical education to the children of the Shah of Iran, and his mother wrote children’s books. It was decided that George would come to the United States after high school because the family felt that a U.S. university education would be superior. Dr. Podgorny left his family and came alone to Maryville College in Tennessee and decided to go into medicine. He became enamored with Wake Forest University School of Medicine (then the Bowman Gray Medical School) and its Baptist Hospital, was accepted there for medical school, and never left the region. Dr. Podgorny excelled as a medical student and was accepted in to the general surgery residency. As a surgery resident he spent a great deal of time in the emergency department, and was struck by the fact that the sickest patients were cared for by the least trained residents who were rarely supervised. He worked diligently to improve care in the emergency department even as a resident. DR. Podgorny then completed vascular surgery training and was in a cardiothoracic surgery training fellowship when he began to learn more about physicians who were practicing full time in emergency departments. He attended the 1970 ACEP meeting and met many of the early leaders. After this, he joined with a couple friends to work in the emergency department of Forsyth Hospital in Winston-Salem. He loved this work, and the possibility of being involved in a new specialty of medicine, and did not return to surgery.